Charlie Fink announces that the audience had witnessed the premiere of his film just before the interval in such a nonplussed way that you’d find it hard to believe that he was on a man feeling the nerves. It would be entirely understandable if he had come across in a more shy and withdrawn manner; for their first show in six months, Noah And The Whale could have chosen an easier route than playing in a 19th century theatre in the heart of London.
As it is, they are playing four consecutive Sunday shows at the Palace Theatre, normally home to popular musical Singin’ In The Rain. The surroundings mean that the dim of the lights is even more of a thrill than usual yet they arrive without the fanfare befitting of the West End and, almost as soon as they arrive, it’s straight into the ‘stripped back’ set.
Some found their transition from the heart-wrenching sorrow of The First Days Of Spring to the full-on rock anthems of Last Night On Earth difficult to understand. The first half hour possibly tries to win some of those people back as they try to marry the radio-friendly melodies of new material with the acoustic-led arrangements of old. They’re also flanked by a string quartet, which really makes I Have Nothing even more tender and The First Days Of Spring that much more dramatic and soaring.
After the showing of Fink’s mini-movie that accompanies their upcoming new album Heart Of Nowhere (which was fine, if a little ‘Skins does sci-fi’) the band return for their amplified, all-guns-blazing second set. There’s been a lot of growing up over the course of their career as well as stylistic shifts, but the new songs that are debuted suggest a contentment with their current path. From that forthcoming LP, there are a couple of immediate standouts – Still After All These Years sees Matt Owens and Fred Abbott trade guitar solos much to the crowd’s delight, whilst the thrilling All Through The Night sees Fink wail almost as loudly as his screeching Bruce Springsteen-esque guitar.
With this much gusto, there is plenty of temptation to jump out of the seats with fists in the air but, for the most part, the excitement is contained. There’s no doubt that if this was the Forum or Shepherd’s Bush Empire that arms would be raised aloft but on this occasion it’s the final double whammy of their two most well-received songs from either side of their career – the unrelenting cheer of Five Years Time and L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N – that finally gets the audience on their feet and provides a fitting finish.
This is a workmanlike and satisfying performance that was without any show-stopping theatrics, save for the inclusion of the Heart Of Nowhere film. There was nothing that made the evening feel special, which in some ways felt like a wasted opportunity, but perhaps it’s best not to dwell on what could have been. Instead, Noah And The Whale used the evening to illustrate how far they’ve come since their early folky days. The chances are that they will still have to fight off their detractors and with possible good reason – they’re not necessarily arena-ready – but it’s something that doesn’t seem to bother them or their fanbase one little bit.